Season finale: Dollhouse

Back into the cupboard

So I stuck with Dollhouse. I wasn’t sure I’d have the energy after the first three episodes, but I stuck with it until the sixth, the promised game-changer, which did indeed change the game enough for me to want to stick with the show, just to see if it would get better.

Well, we’re here at the end. We have seen the face of Alpha – and Omega. Was it worth it?

To be honest, not really. Although it’s been gratifying to see that, left to their own devices and without the interference of Fox, Joss Whedon and co can still produce halfway decent drama, Dollhouse has still not been on a par with much of their previous work.

Dollhouse has been improving though. As Eliza Dushku and her missions have faded into the background in favour of the overall story arc, more interesting characters and actors with greater range, so the show has become far more watchable. The promise of the counter-Dollhouse, the big bad of Alpha and the unveiling of a mole have added a real frisson to the show that the likes of Echo, her handler and the other under-characterised Dollhouse staff have been unable to provide, even if they are all competently done components of the overall show. The interchanging of personalities and bodies of characters we already know has also proved an intellectually interesting twist.

So the finale proved a slight letdown. Alpha turns out not to be a big bad at all, just a bit mental (and a better actor); no mention of the counter-Dollhouse at all; the revelation we might all have souls and that will save us all; and Ballard’s final breaking of Dollhouse security only to join up with his enemy, while clearly something that might make season two more interesting thanks to the integration of Tahmoh Penikett with the rest of the cast, was a dull defusion of a potentially interesting threat.

Still, there are some things that might make season two, if it happens, interesting. Whisky/Dr Saunders’ presumed future identity issues might make a decent plot for the Dollhouse supporting staff; the question of Topher’s relationship to the real Whisky (is she his sister? Is she even the personality that Sierra gets given on Topher’s once a year game night?) could prove intriguing; and if the counter-Dollhouse ever gets fleshed out, they could certainly up the threat levels.

But this still feels like a show without a reason to exist. Is there an underlying subtext? Slavery is bad? Prostitution is bad? Everyone has a fantasy? Viewer, know thyself? What maketh the man/woman? Maybe, albeit not exactly the deepest and most  novel of subtexts. Without our being ever able to get to know the characters, this still feels like more of an intellectual exercise and a "sci-fi ghetto" (to use Bryan Fuller’s words) than something extraordinary or with something important to say. And without much by way of a sense of humour, it’s not exactly a show that you can just watch for fun.

So roll on season two, but only if it manages to loosen up, find some fun and find a purpose.

  • bob

    Well said. I agree that when not spending time on Echo, it was a bit better but ultimately the underlying subtext felt confused.
    I liked the finale a lot- definitely my favourite episode of the ones I saw. But I think that was because it ticked so many cliched SF boxes. When I watched Dollhouse looking for intellectual stimulation, it failed me. But then when I watched it as if it was a scifi channel production on a par with Flash Gordon’s reboot, say, it was a piece of fun, kitsch and quite hysterical.
    Tudyk’s Alpha was well acted but Minear cut it in a really OTT “I’m crazy” sort of way. Apart from that, the directing was really rather superb in this episode. And some of the lines were brilliant like Alpha’s repetition of “wedge” and general “evil mad man” rantings. I could imagine this one episode being a cult hit…
    So yeah, I get what you mean about the episode being a let-down as it really didn’t seem to try to be serious- it seemed to try to be bad. And that worked for me. If all episodes had just been good fun, taking the potential of mind/body swapping and merging in the way this episode did, it would have made a good diversion on a Friday night.

  • Just to say with being ill this week I indulged in a full season DVD overload of Dollhouse. Perhaps my addled brain was unable to recognise levels of quality but I really enjoyed it, including the ‘Epitaph One’ episode which presumably followed this ‘finale’ (???)
    I think I’ll be getting s2 once that comes out…

  • MediumRob

    “Just to say with being ill this week I indulged in a full season DVD overload of Dollhouse. Perhaps my addled brain was unable to recognise levels of quality”
    That’ll be it. 😉
    “including the ‘Epitaph One’ episode which presumably followed this ‘finale’ (???)I think I’ll be getting s2 once that comes out…”
    Ah, the mysteries of the mysterious 13th episode. When does it take place? What really happens? Does it affect the continuity of Dollhouse? Oh so tricky.